February 26, 2008

Who Wants to Kill Barack?

Justin Katz

When speculation becomes front-page news, one gets the impression of legend building. If Barack Obama wins and lives to tell the tale, he'll be the One Who Lived. The great hope whom they managed to protect (unless the reality disappoints terribly):

His wife, Michelle Obama, voiced concerns about his safety before he was elected to the Senate. Three years ago, she said she dreaded the day her husband received Secret Service protection, because it would mean serious threats had been made against him.

The thing is: I've yet to hear of any actual serious threats being made. The fears appear all to be grounded in assassinations from decades ago. The Kennedys and King (somehow the attempt on Reagan's life is never mentioned).

Of course, more than one narrative can be constructed around the idea of a dead candidate, and I, for one, can't think of any more dangerous act — in a culture that produces semi-annual mass murders perpetrated, it seems, mainly for posthumous attention — than to splash across the news media fears of having to write a candidate's murder into the history books. That risky behavior raises an interesting question, though: Who would benefit most from the candidate's death?

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All part of the illusion....

Posted by: EMT at February 26, 2008 12:49 PM

Well, the obvious answer to your question is Clinton. But since McCain seems to have a better chance of defeating Clinton than Obama, maybe the real answer is McCain (and Republicans generally).

Posted by: Jon at February 26, 2008 2:30 PM

Also, in my above comment by "your question" I mean the question at the end of your post, not the inflammatory title question.

Posted by: Jon at February 26, 2008 2:33 PM

Ask any of your African-American friends (if you have any) that question.

I'm a supporter of Obama, and I like to believe America has risen above those times. But just about every black American I've talked politics with says the same thing: "they'll assassinate him."

Or better yet, why not ask the secret service why he has a larger contingent than most other comparable candidates, and why he received it earlier than most presidential candidates. I guess the secret service is just a bunch of loony conspiracy theorists.

Posted by: Jake at February 26, 2008 4:23 PM

You can be snide and dismissive, if you like, Jake, but the fact remains that the closest thing I've seen of evidence of actual threats is a three-year-old quote from his wife that Secret Service protection would be evidence of "serious threats."

According to the Times article, Senator Durbin and other members of Congress pushed Obama to take early protection. I can very easily imagine the Secret Service's responding to the requests of politically powerful people in providing the service.

They're building a legend, here, and I would suggest that making an issue of it in the media is a pretty good way to make the prophecy self-fulfilling.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 26, 2008 5:19 PM

You need to get out of RI occasionally, Justin.

There are still large reservoirs of racism in other parts of the nation. I don't need to tell you that a mindset that accepts deep racism might be deranged enough to also consider assassination.

Even putting the racism aside, the most radical candidates -- in the sense of offering broad transformational promise -- have been the ones most targeted (John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and yes, the attempt on Reagan).

Suggesting that legitimate fears of assassination are part of some conspiracy to invent a legend deserve a snide and dismissive response.

Posted by: Jake at February 26, 2008 5:39 PM

Well I bet if Obama is elected at least protesters will not be restricted to protesting far away from the events he is at and folks wearing t-shirts critical of him get arrested and/or excluded from attending the events. Maybe we will makes steps towards returning to a free and democratic society!

This is of course another nonissue from the right. It is an unfortunate reality that ALL of our Presidential candidates need protection and it is up to our secret service to determine how and how much, not a bunch of right wing whiny loonies. Let the professionals do their job!

Finally there is a big difference between Kennedy and King who have been mentioned more than Reagan in the context of this discussion. The Reagan attempt failed (and let me say thank You God for that!).

Posted by: rasputinkhlyst at February 26, 2008 5:40 PM

Look, I don't have a problem with Obama's receiving the protection. I have a problem — as a matter of practicality and of ingenuousness — with it being treated as front-page news.

Legitimate fears of assassination merit Secret Service presence. If there are an unusual number of explicit threats being received, that would justify media coverage. But trumpeting a necessity that is felt to exist as a matter of legend (especially given the various published fantasies from the Left concerning W's assassination) strikes me as potentially a ploy to bestow the aura of "broad transformational promise" — one, as I've been saying, that probably increases the security risk to the candidate.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 26, 2008 6:05 PM

President Ford was the target of two assassination attempts-and he was not very controversial nor a minority of any kind-the attackers were nutjobs-any person with a high profile can be a target,usually for insane reasons-I believe there are any number of people in this country who are consumed enough by racial hatred to be dangerous-most would not act on their attitudes,but it only takes one,so I don't think the Secret Service is being paranoid

Posted by: joe at March 1, 2008 9:12 AM
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